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"You scowl because you have indigestion and fourteen people feel inadequate."

As a couples therapist, the question of “fault” comes up quite frequently. Couples in distress are typically wondering – which one of us is “the problem”? Who caused the last fight we had? Much energy is spent either blaming oneself and feeling terrible or blaming one’s partner and feeling angry and hopeless. In Buddhist psychology, the concept of “no self” is something I have found both liberating and confusing, but one piece of this concept that can be readily observed in day to day life is the notion that human beings are not independent, separate beings. It definitely appears that we are separate – I’m here, and you are over there – this is me, and this is you. However, when you start intentionally looking for the ways we are all inter-dependent, you start to see how utterly connected we are, and how our reactions cause reactions in others and vice versa in an ongoing, infinity loop!

This quote from Pema Chodron is a great example of this:

“You scowl at somebody, not because you’re angry with them but because you have indigestion, and fourteen people’s feeling of inadequacy and that there’s something wrong with them get triggered.”

Whose is at fault in this example? The person with indigestion? The person who made the food that gave the person indigestion? The people who got triggered by the scowl? The people in their past who maybe rejected them and made them feel something was wrong with them? The people in their past who rejected them? We could go on and on and on looking for fault, but at the end of the day, we just have to acknowledge that human beings live in a complex system of relationships and we are constantly being impacted by others and are impacting others.

In Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) we coach couples to get interested in this complexity and learn how to track the cycle of how they impact each other vs. engaging in the ever popular, and not so fun game of “Find the Bad Guy”.

See if you can observe this inter-dependence and complexity in your interactions with people this week. I’ll be doing the same!

Thanks for reading!

As always, your questions or comments are welcomed!

Dr. Sue Johnson, the creator of EFT for couples has started a blog with lots of great posts about relationships! Check it out here:

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